Published: June 25, 2020

Serving and Protecting in the Arenas of the Domestic and the International

It is presumable that a nation solicitous of establishing its character on the
broad basis of justice, would not only hesitate, but reject every proposition to
benefit itself by the injury of any neighboring community . . .

Henry Knox, first United States Secretary of War,
to President George Washington, June 15, 1789


 Zachary Guiliano

Introduced by Patty Limerick

Zachary Guiliano served five-and-a-half years in the United States Army as an Intelligence Analyst. After completing training, he was assigned to the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. In 2013 he was deployed to Afghanistan under Special Operations Command, and during this time he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Shortly after returning to the states, Sergeant Guiliano was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado where he finished his enlistment.

Thanks to my good fortune in meeting Stewart Elliott, retired Navy Seal and Director of the CU Office of Veterans and Military Affairs, I regularly appear on the “Professors’ Panel” in the Bridge Programs that welcome Student Veterans to campus. So I met Zach Guiliano just as he arrived at CU, and my good fortune has never let up. A double major in International Relations and Film Production, he is a participant in the Center’s Western American Studies Certificate program. In the Spring of 2019, Zach was a student in my course, CAMW 2001, The American West.

Let’s say I knew a couple of fellow professors who had had extremely poor luck in course enrollment. Let’s say these poor souls had gotten locked in melancholy, overcome by too much time spent in the company of unmotivated students who, presented with consequential and compelling ideas, could only peer fitfully at their phones. And let’s say that I was determined to help these benighted instructors recover their spirits.

What would I do?

Well, that’s easy.

I’d introduce them to Zach Guiliano.

Whatever you put in front of Zach, he will leap into figuring it out. You can choose a clip from a Western documentary, the story of a controversy over a building named after a controversial historical figure, images from an enormous mural created by a noted Western artist, scenarios for the future of Western outdoor recreation and the role of Indian tribes in that future, or the best book ever written on Western resource conflicts (John McPhee’s Encounters with the Archdruid, in case anyone was wondering). Whatever you present to him, he will go at it full-tilt, exploring, interpreting, and reflecting with amazing energy and with guaranteed originality.

In other words, Student Guiliano turned out to be just as impressive as Sergeant Guiliano.

And now, parting from the sorrowful, burned-out professors whom I created only so that Zach could redeem them, let’s imagine a world in which students and professors would meet in the framework of a “balance of instruction,” modeled on the “balance of trade” that nations are forever quantifying.

In the Guiliano/Limerick Balance of Instruction, Zach and I are breaking even.

The pandemic has shaken the foundations of higher education, and we are all guessing away, like contestants in a frenzied quiz show, trying to figure out what the future might hold. A few aged babyboomers may hold onto nostalgia for the old model of a lecture hall where a “sage on the stage” dispensed units of knowledge to the docile and absorbent young. While “good riddance” would be an unnecessarily hard-hearted rejoinder to that nostalgia, Mark Twain’s exhortation to humanity—”Dream other dreams, and better”—makes for a more persuasive response.

That’s where the Guiliano/Limerick Balance of Instruction comes in.

Keep reading this blog, and you will find a down-to-earth demonstration of a vision of higher education in which professors and students regularly engage in mutual and reciprocal instruction, a cross-generational initiative in dreaming other dreams, and better.

While I could not have written the essay you are about to read, I was privileged to participate in its creation. I listened as Zach instructed me on a topic of great relevance to the present: how a better understanding of accountability in the military might give clarity and direction to police reform.  I asked him questions; given the fact that I knew so much less than he did, this was easy to do. Zach and I then pitched into envisioning ways that his knowledge and insights could evolve into an essay. I read and commented on several drafts of that essay. And now, putting this blog to its highest use in service to our troubled nation, I am showcasing Zach’s work so that others can join me in learning from him.

Dreaming other dreams, and better, Zach and I share the hope that his essay will open the door to a forthright conversation between two groups of Americans whose lives share a distinctive burden that few of the rest of us carry: their jobs require them to carry firearms and to live with the recognition that they can never be insulated from violence.

If anyone wonders how Zach’s essay fits with the Center’s focus on the American West, stay tuned for the next “Not My First Rodeo” blog, appearing just before the Fourth of July. That posting will trace the history of a significant sector of Army personnel, in the nineteenth-century West, who believed that their service included an honest appraisal of their nation’s conduct.

Complying with the protocols of remote working, Zach and I conducted our conversations on Zoom. This really quite tolerable medium allowed us to dart around to various topics that were not on our agenda for discussion. At one point, I mentioned that, since mid-March, I have taken to singing when I am walking on lightly populated streets. Zach, it turns out, is also a singing pedestrian and hiker in pandemic times. My repertoire, I told him, always included “America the Beautiful,” “Home on the Range,” and “Don’t Fence Me In.”

He urged me to add “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” I have done so.

At the end of his essay, you’ll find a link to the United States Army Field Band’s performance of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” We hope that you will follow that link, take pleasure in the artistry of gifted musicians, and, as you contemplate the words of the song, reflect on the insights that Sergeant Zach Guiliano offers to his fellow Americans.

And then, if you are so inclined, go for a walk and join the chorus.

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Keeping Accountability in the Saddle:

Serving and Protecting in the Arenas of the Domestic and the International

Zachary Guiliano

It is presumable that a nation solicitous of establishing its character on the
broad basis of justice, would not only hesitate, but reject every proposition to
benefit itself by the injury of any neighboring community . . .

Henry Knox, first United States Secretary of War,
to President George Washington, June 15, 1789

photo of Zach Guiliano in military outfit

Zachary Guiliano in dress uniform—Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Spring of 2014. 

My discomfort with the militarization of American police started in 2014, during the unrest following Michael Brown’s killing by police in Ferguson, Missouri. I had just returned from Afghanistan the December before, and I was unsettled to see police standing in front of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles and carrying and wearing gear I wore on deployment. I saw similar scenes play out as law enforcement agencies from six states tore down the protester encampment on sovereign Sioux land at the Standing Rock Reservation at the end of 2016.

Since 9/11, the use of military equipment by domestic law enforcement has been a continually upward trend. The use of that equipment in the unrest following the death of George Floyd has been a case-in-point for protesters rallying against police brutality. Providing military equipment to police in the US without regular, meaningful training has proven to be a recipe for disaster.

The military and the police do hold some qualities and dimensions in common. Both are halves of the government’s uniformed services. Both are charged by the government to serve and protect the state and its citizens. The glaring difference between them is the disparity of accountability in their use of force.

The police are beginning to look indistinguishable from a military force, but they do not have the same level of accountability brought on by decades of experience, institutional introspection, and organizational education as the military. In American society, military personnel and police are among a select few that face a very real prospect of using and experiencing extreme acts of violence.  The military benefits from much more regular and rigorous training, as well as a clear hierarchy where everyone knows their role. Junior enlisted personnel carry out lawful orders, non-commissioned officers (NCOs: to the uninitiated, they are enlisted personnel whom an officer delegates to) uphold standards and discipline, and officers issue lawful orders. The term “lawful order” is something everyone understands to be an order within the confines of the law. Military personnel have a moral obligation to disobey or not follow illegal orders, although under military law they may have to defend this action in court to a military tribunal.

I will not claim that the military’s unique code of laws, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), is perfect. The UCMJ can be, and has been, inadequate at holding responsible many American personnel accused of a myriad of violations. The UCMJ’s strength is demonstrated when wielded by NCOs and officers to maintain good order and discipline in the ranks. The UCMJ can be used to mete out punishment to those who step out of line. Punishments include reduction of rank (and thus pay and potentially other benefits), being forced out of the military, or imprisonment at Fort Leavenworth. This structural legal pressure helps maintain order, but can also cement organizational change.

The UCMJ was integral in shifting the military culture during the early years of the Global War on Terror. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, the enemy was gaining support among the local populations, fueled by scandals like Abu Ghraib or the Haditha Massacre, as well as excessive use of force in interactions with civilians. In 2007, General David Petraeus led efforts to rewrite and reorient US Counterinsurgency doctrine. As the military shifted to a more restrained approach, excessive use of force began to be increasingly taboo, and the UCMJ empowered commanders to throw “bad apples” in the trash. By 2008 the more restrained approach provided promising results, as US and Iraqi casualties decreased, and Iraqi citizens seemed more willing to work with US forces and the Iraqi government.

Counterinsurgency, or COIN, and American law enforcement response to protests, should only be related in the sense that both involve providing security for civilians. COIN can simply be viewed as a doctrine covering the use of force in an insurgent environment. The US military has been engaged in COIN campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, where they assisted local military and law enforcement in maintaining order. COIN doctrine can be broken down into two different modes, “direct” and “indirect.” Direct COIN calls for neutralizing as many insurgents as possible (that is, killing, capturing, or otherwise removing them from the battlespace in a combatant capacity) in order to erode civilian support. Indirect COIN requires patience and restraint in the use of force, movement of fighting away from populated areas, and a focused effort on building infrastructure and local security forces in order to win the civilian populace’s trust. There is no such thing as a purely Direct or Indirect COIN effort, and, in any given event, both will borrow doctrine from one another. Direct COIN requires bringing the fight to the enemy in order to break their will through force, which discourages the civilian populace from supporting the insurgents (or, in domestic terms, criminals). The American approach to the war in Vietnam is an example of the US conducting direct COIN. Indirect COIN requires operations focused on community outreach. COIN and local government forces provide security, stability, and infrastructure to delegitimize the insurgency, as seen in Afghanistan and Iraq beginning in 2007.

When systems which shield bad behavior are in place, there is no incentive for organizations endowed with a monopoly of the legitimized use of violence to engage in a domestic version of “indirect COIN” by reaching out to the community or doing the hard work of self-regulation. Police officers in riot lines across the country know they have the cover of their superiors, unions, and the justice system, and accordingly act with impunity. Just as important, they do not know the proper guidelines for the use of the equipment in their reach. Fourteen-ton MRAPs are an unnecessary response to Americans who are protesting by raising their hands in surrender. Rubber bullets, which can be up to the size of an adult male’s palm, are meant to be fired into the ground, not directly at people. Tear gas is meant to be dispersed upwind of groups of people, not fired directly into a crowd. Flashbangs, a type of grenade which stuns targets with a massive burst of light and sound, are meant to assist in clearing rooms of armed combatants, not to scatter an unarmed crowd of Americans. If law enforcement personnel cannot hold their own accountable in the use of their military gear properly, they have no business being trusted with that gear.

When it comes to solutions, we face a vexing “which comes first” challenge: positive efforts from the rank-and-file or departmental cultural change? My belief is that both must happen concurrently, although we must also acknowledge that we are (tragically) unlikely to see a national or state level adoption of a Uniform Code of Police Justice. But penal codes are not the be-all, end-all of accountability, and there are domestic, as well as military examples of success. Programs like New Orleans’ EPIC (Ethical Policing Is Courageous) encourage officers to apply gentle peer pressure on their comrades before situations spiral out of hand. It explores training for new or junior officers to stand up to superiors in a way that is respectful and maintains order and discipline. In an interview with NPR, a career officer said a rookie applied EPIC to him following a physical altercation, preventing him from making a mistake he said he would have regretted for the rest of his life. Camden, New Jersey has seen massive decreases in violent crime after the city effectively defunded their police force and required structural reorganizing. In Afghanistan and Iraq, US forces had to run through an exhaustive escalation of force (EOF), and oftentimes could not use lethal force unless fired upon.

Police officers are not exactly the brothers and sisters of the military, but they are more our cousins, sharing some of the burdens, responsibilities, and privileges. I’d encourage my cousins in uniform to take this opportunity to examine their behavior and that of their comrades and departments, in order to initiate meaningful change among the rank and file.

When I think of my fellow veterans who have transitioned from military to police service, I see them in a distinctive position to benefit their fellow citizens, both in and out of uniform. With a hybrid experience, a police officer with military experience may be more like an in-law than a sibling or a cousin. As is typical of the challenges faced by in-laws when trying to be helpful, their task is almost certain to be awkward and uncomfortable. But these in-laws can serve their peers and their communities by pulling together the wisdom gained from their time in camouflage and bringing that wisdom to bear on their time in blue.

The majority of Americans have made clear that current methods used by police have been too forceful. Consensus, rare in this country, converges on the proposition that lack of accountability is the problem that needs correction. It is time to acknowledge the failure of “domestic Direct COIN,” wherein countless millions of dollars are poured into crime prevention via aggressive enforcement of policies, and thousands of lives are tragically cut short without true American justice being served. I encourage my cousins to ask themselves if a more indirect form of policing would work better. When US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq made the switch to indirect COIN (and for some time after), there was much grumbling from the military and veteran communities about how restraint would lead to a massive increase in military casualties. The opposite was proven true. Combat continued, violence continued, and civilians were still caught in the crossfire, but the locals appreciated that US forces didn’t view them as expendable. They still hated us, but the indirect approach showed we wouldn’t live up to the barbaric conqueror stereotype that the enemy had painted of us.

The duty—and the honorable calling— of American police to serve and protect the public has collided with the realities of policing culture and policy. In a time when the taxpayer says “enough,” will America’s finest do what is necessary to uphold their oaths and begin the hard task of introspection, rebuilding trust, and sustaining community outreach? Or will they opt to maintain the status quo, rejected by many of the citizens they police?

When I was in Afghanistan in 2013, there was almost a week of protests demanding the immediate removal and arrest of the provincial governor. Protesters alleged he was deeply corrupt, stealing money from aid funds meant for the people. For days I could hear thousands of Afghans, about a mile away in the city center, chanting over the din of the military airfield I lived on. The protesters were allowed to protest peacefully —and with great emotional intensity— in a country torn apart by civil war for decades, and without the centuries of institutional norms we inherit.

In the uprising after the killing of George Floyd, protesters in many cities across the United States were not even given one day of tolerance. In many locales, police departments quickly took up the violent suppression of protests. Officers have been documented on camera arresting, inflicting violence on, and inciting resistance from people who did nothing other than exercise their rights.

Keeping current on police actions in the last few weeks has been as tiring and emotionally draining as my time in Afghanistan, and I don’t have the heart or stomach to recount every act. Why could a deeply fractured, genuinely tribal society in one of the poorest countries in the world tolerate anti-corruption protests without a violent response from the police? Why wasn’t this possible in the supposedly greatest nation on Earth, even when the right to assembly and protest leads our list of rights?

For my part, I’m done being silent. And I’m deeply sorry for being silent for so long.

Banner Photo – Zachary Guiliano, Combat-ready in Afghanistan, 2013.